'SNL' Exhibition Review: Killer Bees, King Tut and More
This immersive exhibiton celebrating the iconic show's 40th anniversary provides a detailed account of the creation of a typical episode while showcasing a wealth of original props, artifacts and costumes.
Following hot on the heels of NYC's hit exhibition devoted to AMC's Mad Men is Saturday Night Live: The Exhibition, the latest opportunity for television fans to get up close and personal with one of their favorite shows. This expansive exhibition timed to coincide with the venerable comedy/variety show's 40th anniversary is currently enjoying an open-ended run courtesy of Premiere Exhibitions, previously responsible for shows devoted to King Tut, the Titanic and Pompeii.
Located in a handsome new space in a 5th Avenue building (417 5th Avenue) not far from Rockefeller Center, the immersive exhibition chronicles the show's decades-long history while guiding attendees through a day-by depiction of the six-day process of creating a typical SNL episode, from the writing sessions to the building of sets to the dress rehearsal to the actual broadcast. It begins with a short video narrated by Alec Baldwin, who holds the record for the most hosting stints with 16.
The first room contains the actual desk of the show's creator, Lorne Michaels, as well as such vintage artifacts as a mailgram he sent to NBC executive Dick Ebersol in June 1975, several months before the show's premiere, in which he outlines the essential elements that mostly continue to this day. There's also a handwritten note to him from Bill Murray early in the show's run, reading as follows: "Hey Lorne — I was here on time but nobody else was. So I left. Faithfully, Billy."
Despite the exhibit's admirable educational aspects, it's the original props and costumes that are clearly the main attraction. You'll get to see such iconic character costumes as Buckwheat, Stuart Smalley, Church Lady, Wayne and Garth, Hans and Frans, Opera Man and the Coneheads, John Belushi's killer bee suit, Bill Murray's Nick the Lounge Singer jacket and Chris Farley's Matt Foley garb. Steve Martin's King Tut get-up is also included, although that one's a bit of a cheat as it's not the original but the one worn in the recent 40th anniversary special.
There's also a terrific selection of props on display, from a box of "Colon Blow" cereal to Chevy Chase's land-shark head to the reconstructed photo of the pope torn up by Sinead O'Connor in her controversial 1992 appearance. There's a 1992 letter written by Al Franken to Richard Nixon asking the former president to appear on the show; actual script pages from the 1975-76 seasons and a network censor's "Script Acceptability Report" from a 1986 show hosted by Eddie Murphy. Along the way myriad video monitors display classic clips as well as commentary from past and present castmembers, writers and directors.
A detailed recreation of the "Wayne's World" set provides the opportunity for a memorable photo op. You can also, for a $20 fee, have a picture taken of yourself on the "Weekend Update" set with the hosts of your choice.
A replica of the control room provides a behind-the scenes look at the controlled mayhem that goes on during show night, complete with clips of notable mishaps.
It all ends in a mock-up of Studio 8H, including the main stage — sadly, you don't get to play host — with an original video segment featuring Tina Fey, who invites us to join the afterparty. "Just don't be freaked out when it looks exactly like the museum's gift shop," she jokes. And sure enough, that's not surprisingly just where you end up.